The Wake County Board of Education didn’t withdraw from its high schools’ accreditation Wednesday night, but it is one step closer to making that decision. The board discussed withdrawing accreditation in a controversial closed meeting, which took place during a public hearing on reassignments Wednesday night at Millbrook High School.
Wake County high schools are currently accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS,) a regional branch of AdvancEd. Accreditation is a method of quality assurance which adds value to high school diplomas in accredited districts and increases students’ chances of being admitted into college and getting scholarships and financial aid.
AdvancEd requested an investigation into the Wake County school system’s decision to drop its long-standing diversity policy. The back and forth started months ago and correspondence between the two organizations has been indicative of a relationship on the rocks. Neither organization wants accreditation to be dropped, but neither wants to cave in to the other’s demands.
Rather than telling Wake its accreditation would be dropped, AdvancEd’s president wrote to the school system’s attorney, saying that Wake should consider withdrawing its own accreditation if it does not plan to proceed with the investigation in a more open manner.
The majority members of the board have explained their resistance by saying AdvancEd is using too broad a scope in its investigation of the school system, which is the result of a request made by the pro-diversity NAACP. Board member John Tedesco claimed that even some of the pro-diversity members on the board agree.
Ultimately the board voted to extend the fraught correspondence with AdvancEd, by sending a letter asking the organization for clarity on the scope and process of the investigation.
Board member Kevin Hill split with the minority in voting to send the letter, but said that he did not agree with Tedesco’s assessment that the scope of the investigation is too broad for accreditation purposes. Hill added that he would not move to withdraw Wake County schools from accreditation in any future vote.
“In general, I think we would do well in the investigation,” said minority member Anne McLaurin. “We might learn there are some places we can improve, but that would be a good thing.”
Dhruv Jain was one of a dozen students to speak out against losing accreditation. “As students all we can do is watch. It’s a debacle of partisan politics. If nothing is wrong, you should have nothing to fear.”
Board member Debra Goldman has split with the majority on several crucial reassignment votes but still supports neighborhood schools in theory.
In explaining her vote to continue the back-and-forth with AdvancEd and her disagreement with the scope of the investigation, she said, “Please know that what is in my heart is to do the right thing by the children of this county.” But, she added that the investigation goes “beyond the scope of accreditation” and that AdvancEd is “not allowing [Wake County schools] due process.”
Like the majority of the major decisions in the past year, the decision to have a closed meeting was split along party lines. McLaurin, who voted against the closed meeting, said, “Open process is very important. I’m not scared of talking openly without a lawyer.”
News and Observer reporter Thomas Goldsmith stood up before the crowd at Millbrook High and voiced that newspaper’s opposition of the closed meeting to a standing ovation. He said, “We didn’t feel the attorney-client privilege argument stood up in this situation. Procedural advice has often been given in public meetings.”
The board was greeted by 50 high school students chanting, “Save our education. Keep accreditation,” as it emerged from the closed door session to vote publicly on continuing the correspondence with AdvancEd.
Roughly half of the speakers at last night’s meeting addressed specific assignments, which was the initial purpose of the evening. With four more public hearings in the next two weeks set to address the three-year assignment plan, it’s unclear what the major focus of public comment will be.
Public hearings will be held at:
Heritage High School Thursday Jan 13 at 6pm
South East H.S. Wednesday Jan. 19 at 6pm
Garner H.S. Thursday Jan. 20 at 6pm
Cary H.S. Monday Jan. 24th at 6pm